For many years now, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrist have been prescribing psychiatric medication to patients suffering from disorders of the mind. Sometimes high level of dosage is given to such mental patients to bring them around, or to make them submit to standards considered as appropriate by us.
Therefore, any doubts about the side effects of the medicines that were given to such patients, were considered unfounded and misplaced belief. But medical research and findings over the years have proven that, just like other types of drugs being prescribed by the medical professionals, the psychiatric drugs too have side effects. It’s only recently that the medical community has started taking the issue of the side effects of such drugs seriously. Mentioned below are some of the side effects of such psychiatric drugs on the brain. Also mentioned is how they affect the functions of various parts of the brain as well as the sensory functions.
Side Effects On The Brain
Almost all psychiatric drugs leave their mark on the body and the brain. These marks are in the form of :
* Temporary or permanent alteration of the ability to understand and perceive the immediate environment
* Suppressing some cognitive and sensory functions
* Addiction to the drug which leads to withdrawal symptoms in the patients
Based on the type of psychiatric drug used, the side effects can vary. Given below is a list of some of these side effects:
* Mood stabilizers given to treat mood disorders in people who experience severe and prolonged mood swings can dampen the brain’s functions which in turn subdue emotions and reduce vitality. Other side affects on the brain are – drowsiness or a black out, trembling, slurred speech, confusion and head aches. Some patients may even experience irritability and anger which are exactly the types of mood for which the drug was actually prescribed. Some others may also suffer from disturbed vision.
* Anti-depressants which may be prescribed by some psychiatrists can cause side effects like – a feeling of euphoria which provides an artificial sense of relief from depression, numbing of the mind and an in-ability to feel emotions. Most notable side effects are caused by drugs that are grouped as SSRIs or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Their effect on the brain can be noticed by symptoms like – insomnia, tremors, headaches, dizziness, fatigue accompanied by sleepiness, anxiety and restlessness. They may even induce depression rather than treating it. If the patient has been given the anti depressant for prolonged periods then he will exhibit withdrawal symptoms when the dosage is stopped suddenly. Anti depressants must always be reduced slowly in a controlled manner and always under the care of a psychiatrist.
* Stimulants decrease the activity level in children reducing their spontaneity. They may seem obedient but this is a result of decreased energy levels and subdued creativity. They will show less enthusiasm for social activity, may tend to be reclusive and become obsessive about things and events. Drowsiness, confusion, physical activity will become haphazard due to loss of coordination, rash or risky behavior may become apparent, sleep disturbances occur, mood swings occur and they develop symptoms similar to obsessive compulsive disorder. Adults who feel subdued after taking stimulants may take other drugs to combat fatigue or anxiety. This will become a chain reaction forcing the patient to shift between drugs. The cumulative effect is that the system is flushed with drugs, a very dangerous situation in the long term. Others may become addictive while some others will suffer from altered brain chemistry. In severe cases the brain tissue may shrink or the patient may experience anxiety, depression, paranoia, phobia, insomnia, develop a hostile attitude and withdraw from social life. Some may even hallucinate and develop suicidal thoughts. Withdrawal symptoms can be noticed in patients who stop the medication abruptly.
* Benzodiazepines are used as a tranquilizer to calm down individuals. Hence it suppresses the brain’s functions making the person seem more obedient. Apart from this it causes side effects like – loss of creativity, decreased social interaction, hallucinations, aggression, depression, detaching the patient from reality and a change in personality. The person may either become aggressive or develop suicidal thoughts. The patient may also suffer from impaired memory and cognitive abilities. He may also become submissive and feel fatigued. Such psychiatric drugs can also cause psychomotor impairment which will result in conditions like ataxia and dysarthria. Those who suffer from psychomotor dysfunction are at a risk of accidents that may be life threatening. Moreover the drugs can combine with other drugs in the body in a cumulative effect proving more disastrous to the physical and mental health of the individual. With long term use the person will become addicted and will experience withdrawal symptoms when giving up the drug.
* Neuroleptic psychiatric drugs which are also called antipsychotic drugs have disastrous side effects. Though the patient may seem submissive and exhibit agreeable standards of behavior, internally the drug has an effect which can be considered chemical lobotomy. This is like disrupting or suppressing the functions of the frontal lobe of the brain. The patient becomes indifferent to his surroundings or shows apathy towards others. Though he may seem obedient, internally he will suffer from high level of emotional distress which he will find difficult to expresses, because of the subdued state of his brain. There is a possibility of a minor loss of brain tissue. Other side effects noticed are – tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movements), akathisia (restlessness), dystonia (neurological movement disorder), lethargy, parkinsonism (Parkinson’s syndrome), seizures and terrible nightmares which may scare the patient. Many of these side effects are a result of the obstruction of the dopamine receptors in the brain. This happens primarily in the mesolimbic area of the brain, hence the above mentioned conditions or motor dysfunctions. Apart from these such psychiatric drugs also cause side effects like confusion, sedation and impaired cognitive abilities. Under severe dosage levels, the drugs can also cause blindness in some individuals besides making them nervous and drowsy.
Most psychiatric drugs cause some degree of impairment of the brain which can either be temporary or permanent depending on the ability of the individual to tolerate the drug and its side effects. With increase knowledge about such side effects, many people have adopted a cautious attitude towards these drugs. There are some quarters where voices have been raised against their use or the long term use of such drugs. Whatever the condition of the patient, or the opinion of majority of medical practitioners, some level of prudent judgment is required on part of the medical professionals considering these side effects.